The gang’s all here…for the recording of “Hunky Dory” Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey introduced their boss to bass player Trevor Bolder, also from Hull, putting together the band than in just a few months would become known to the world as The Spiders From Mars. Tony Visconti’s producers chair has been filled by TMWSTW engineer Ken Scott. So for his 4th album David Bowie produced his first classic.
You’d not know that back in 1971 tho’. The album and accompanying single “Changes”, despite receiving glowing reviews, failed to chart on release. RCA didn’t put much effort into promoting either as they knew a drastic change of image and style was imminent. It’s incredible to think that as Bowie was preparing to release “Hunky Dory” his next album was already recorded and ready to go, the long haired be-flared singer/songwriter pictured on this record sleeve was about to transition into a flame haired, jump suit clad, rock ‘n’ roll alien.
“Hunky Dory” opens with 2 bona fide Bowie gems. “Changes” is as much a metaphor for what the writer is about to do as it is a warning to us all that change is inevitable. The jaunty “Oh! You Pretty Things” was successfully covered by Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame, giving the writer his 2nd hit.
“Eight Line Poem” leads us to the astonishing “Life On Mars ?”. Now this is not just a Bowie classic but, flat out, one of the greatest songs written by anybody, anywhere, ever. Where did the guy who just 18 months ago was writing about splitting up with his girlfriend like a lovesick teenager drag this one from? The song is magnificent, Mick Ronson’s arrangement and orchestration frame it perfectly and Rick Wakeman’s piano elicits from me just about the only good thing I have to say about Rick Wakeman. If the world didn’t already know it this was Bowie serving notice that he was something special.
That is followed by “Kooks” a lovely if slightly silly nursery rhyme to his son Zowie/Joe/Duncan. “Quicksand” closes out Side 1, a beautiful song with references to Buddhism, Nietzsche, Himmler, Churchill, Nazis and not a lot of hope, “Don't believe in yourself, don't deceive with belief, Knowledge comes with death's release” as the lyric goes, cheery huh ?
Biff Rose’s “Fill Your Heart” is a throwaway cover version and then we reach what can be viewed as 3 tribute songs in a row. Bowie had developed a fixation with Andy Warhol, the Factory scene and the Velvet Underground since being presented with an acetate of “Andy Warhol Presents The Velvet Underground and Nico” by former manager Ken Pitt. He’d added “Waiting For The Man” to his live set before it had been released in the UK. Here he writes a tribute to Mr Warhol, “Andy Warhol”, it’s been said Andy hated it.
“Song For Bob Dylan” is exactly that, another tribute to a hero. This is followed by another nod to an influence and a pointer to the next album. “Queen Bitch” is practically a rewrite of “Waiting For The Man”, a backhanded compliment to Lou Reed. It would also have sat very comfortably on Bowie’s next album, the pointer.
“The Bewlay Brothers”, said Bowie, was a song for the American market. Americans love to overthink things, looking for clues in lyrics and on record sleeves that aren’t there, so he wrote a purposefullly cryptic song for America.
“Hunky Dory” is regarded as a classic in hindsight, it almost got lost due to a lack of attention from both artist (Bowie didn’t tour the album) and record company. The next step was ready, Bowie was about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
Quicksand - https://youtu.be/9PrnGo-lOVA (a later live version that not even Reeves Gabrels manages to ruin!).